On March 6, the Fretboard Journal‘s favorite banjo experimentalist/singer-songwriter, Danny Barnes, releases his latest album, Man on Fire (ATO). Executive produced by Dave Matthews, the album features guest appearances by Matthews himself, Bill Frisell, John Paul Jones (on bass and mandolin) and drummer Matt Chamberlain. As with so many of Barnes’ albums, we already have it on heavy rotation here at the office. You can pre-order it here.
We’re happy to be sharing the first single from this album, “Awful Strange,”with our readers above. As many of you know, our Barnes connections go way back: He interviewed Frisell for us in our fourth issue, over a decade ago; he would later go on to grace the cover of our 35th issue himself, appear in our videos and on the FJ podcast. Given our history, we had to ask him a few questions about Man on Fire.
Fretboard Journal: We know all about your vintage Gibson Mastertone TB-4 banjo. Was that the main instrument on the album?
Danny Barnes: Well, I used three Bishline banjos. The Barnes model, an Okie Open Back, and this other archtop banjo I got from Rob Bishline with hearts and flowers and a maple neck. The guitars for me were archtops, also. I used an L-7, and this acoustic Super 400 I borrowed from [David] Grisman that I think used to belong to that crooner from the ’50s, Tony Romano. I think Dawg tracked it down via Joe Venuti. I used the old Gibson [banjo], too, of course.
FJ: As before, you have some amazing players on the album, including John Paul Jones. How did you guys first meet?
DB: One time I was playing over in London and he came to the show and we started talking and hanging out. He took me on this rock & roll tour of London, showing me where the studios were and telling me stories. We went over to his house and screwed around in his studio. I got to play that three-neck mando/guitar thing that was in that poster that used to be in my room when I was a kid. He is a beautiful cat. He is so great, he deserves all the success he has achieved, his playing is spectacular. He can do one little part on a track and it instantly sounds like a killer record. I don’t know how he does that; if I did I suppose this would be a different conversation. Really a spectacular human being. I’m so blessed to have friends like that, super genius guys who are also nice and funny. I love what I do. I’m not one of “those guys,” but I get to eat sandwiches with them pretty regular-like.
He played mando and bass on three tracks.
FJ: Where did you record Man on Fire?
DB: We cut the basics at Studio X in Seattle, we did the drums in L.A. at Matt’s studio; we did the guitars in Brooklyn; and JPJ did his stuff at his house.
FJ: It’s been nearly a decade since you’ve put out a record on ATO. Talk to us about the timing on this and why this collection felt like a good fit for the label?
DB: Well, those guys are all my friends. Every now and then, it’s good for me to write a bunch of stuff and get some good players together and try to put something out to regular people as it were.
FJ: The breadth of your work – from experimental /punk to tributes to your heroes to original material – is one of your hallmarks. Even when you’re pursuing wilder stuff, are you always writing original songs / ballads on the side?
DB: Yes, I always jot down ideas, and I have about four new records, plus a book written. I have the next Bad Livers record already written; we are thinking about doing a record this year. So that’s five records. This is what I do, I’ve been working on it steady since 1971, and this is the best I’ve ever been at my craft. It would be nice if I was a whole lot better, but I just keep working and accept the slow steady progress. I have the next two comic books I want to put out done, too.